A heartfelt comedy fused with a healthy dose of drama, Happy Times (Chinese title: Xingfu Shiguang) does a good job of mixing genres while it remains entertaining and touching at the same time.
In an effort to win the hand of a ‘chunky’ woman (Lifan Dong), Zhao (Benshan Zhao) claims he runs the Happy Times Hotel, when in reality, he’s a retired factory worker, and his ‘hotel’ is actually an old bus painted red inside by Zhao and his America obsessed friend, Little Fu (Biao Fu). They call the bus Happy Times Hut and intend to charge lovers a fee to use it in the hope of raising 50 grand so Zhao can marry his ‘chunky’ love interest. In the end, Zhao isn’t thrilled with the bus idea and won’t let couples close the door, which brings a quick end to the Happy Times Hut.
Meanwhile the ‘chunky’ woman, who lives with her overweight son (Qibin Leng) and blind stepdaughter, Wu Ying (Jie Dong), convinces Zhao to give Wu Ying a job at his ‘hotel’ to keep her out of the house and out of her hair. Zhao quickly finds himself playing the role of boss and caring father figure to Ying as he and his co-worker friends create a faux pa massage parlor in which Ying can work.
As with Yimou Zhang’s other films, Happy Times is filmed in Chinese with English subtitles. Although many people shy away from subtitled foreign films, I find that after watching several of them, it’s no longer an issue. Anymore, it’s difficult to remember which films were subtitled and which were in English.
From films like the critically acclaimed Raise the Red Lantern (1991), it’s apparent Zhang can do drama, however, with Happy Times we see he has a knack for comedy as well. The comedy is well timed, there’s even a few sight gags along the way (such as Fu’s Popeye shirt).
The ‘father-daughter’ relationship which grows between Zhao and Ying is not only a touching story, but provides many laughs along the way. Both are great actors and bring life to their characters. The addition of Fu and Zhao’s other friends gives the film a sense of comradery. Also, the scenes with the chunky stepmother and her chunky son are entertaining as well.
Despite the title, Happy Times is not all happy, but it is a really good film full of great acting, great comedy, and a story that will keep you intrigued, right up to the credit roll.
Director: Yimou Zhang
Writer: Gai Zi (based on novel by Yan Mo)
Cast: Benshan Zhao, Jie Dong, Lifan Dong, Biao Fu,
Runtime: 102 minutes